Donald Wilson, of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and Yukon, addresses a question to the commission on the marriage canon. Photo: André Forget
Not all Anglicans are going to agree with the interpretation of the Bible used by the Commission on the Marriage Canon in laying out a framework within which same-sex marriage can proceed in church, one commission member concedes.
“I think I would want people to know that we have taken Scripture seriously. They may not agree with the direction of the biblical theological rationale that’s been offered as being one way to do this, but we’ve not ignored – and we’ve sought a way that we believe is faithful to – an Anglican way of reading scripture,” says Bishop Linda Nicholls, in an interview with the Anglican Journal.
The rationale is also consistent with Biblical scholarship and “with our understanding of marriage and its purpose,” says Nicholls. But whether this rationale is “sufficiently strong” for the church to change its marriage canon to allow the marriage of same-sex couples is up to General Synod, she stressed.
In its 65-page report, the commission offered three models for understanding same-sex marriage: as an “undifferentiated” form of Christian marriage, essentially identical to heterosexual marriages; as “blessed partnerships” rather than covenants before God; and as a “differentiated form of Christian marriage covenant.”
Asked whether viewing same-sex unions as different from heterosexual marriages could be interpreted as being a kind of lesser marriage, Nicholls says, “We’ve been very clear that we’re still talking about marriage. We’re talking about the same vows, the same purpose, and the same definition of marriage.” What they’ve done, she says, is use “a different theological lens” to look at the matter. “It’s a little bit like sometimes you look through a glass and you turn it slightly and you see a different band of colours.”
She acknowledges that it is a concept that may not be easily grasped. “Will it be difficult? It certainly won’t be just straightforward, but I think we do our whole church a disservice if we’re not prepared to be theologically rich and deep.”
Although a summary of the report is being prepared, both Nicholls and fellow commission member Rev. Paul Jennings hope members of the church will read the report in its entirety, since it represents a process of thought rather than just an assemblage of ideas.
“If we don’t have a good theological foundation for what we do, then we just skate across the surface and we don’t understand it, and we don’t ground it in a place where it will take root and live,” Nicholls says.
“I think there’s a certain logical development – I hope – in the biblical and theological rationale,” Jennings says. “We tried to lay it out more or less as we thought through it together.
“What I would hope to call people’s attention to is we’re inviting them to a process of thinking things through, so beginning with, ‘OK, what are we going to take as our starting point here?’ … and coming to thinking logically, ‘Well how could we proceed with this in a way that has theological integrity given the tradition we’ve outlined?’” he says.
The report “takes seriously the creation accounts, it takes seriously our understanding of Christ in the church, and attempts to find a way, as we said, to expand that … without changing the definition of marriage,” Nicholls says.
The report notes that several submissions to the commission invoked St. Paul’s words in Romans 1 as evidence that Scripture considers same-sex relationships as contrary to nature—para physin, in the original Greek of St. Paul. However, it continues, “for Paul “contrary to nature” (para physin) is not necessarily a synonym for “sinful.” For instance, the term … is also used later in Romans to speak of the grace of God, para physin, in grafting Gentiles ‘as a wild olive branch’ onto the cultivated tree (‘natural branches’) of Israel.”
Both Nicholls and Jennings say that, if there was a pivotal moment in the process for them as commission members, it was the reflection that allowing same-sex marriages could be seen as analogous with the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Jewish people’s covenant with God described in Ephesians.
“It’s a different context, a different situation, but it is a pattern of the way God has acted in the past,” Jennings says. “This is a possibility to do what we’ve been asked to do in a way that does not change or devalue the previous teaching on marriage, that makes room for both that and for whatever God still has to offer us with this new experience with same-sex couples.”
With files from André Forget
Anglican Journal News, September 23, 2015